DETROIT (WWJ) – While the TV generation may think that Presidents’ Day is all about a good sale — it’s really a day to connect with our history and the leaders who held the nation’s highest office.

Today’s national holiday — held on the third Monday in February – celebrates the country’s history and the men who held the presidential office. Western Michigan University history professor James Cousins says that Presidents’ Day was originally a celebration of George Washington’s birthday — and that Americans were just beginning to learn about democracy during his time in office.

“Not many people really knew what the Revolution was supposed to be about; was it for the rich or the poor or urban or rural or what part of the country it was for? Was it states or for a union. But they focused, as a country, in George Washington and he really became a stand-in for the noblest ideals,” said Cousins.

He says Washington’s life was filled with contractions; he loved his mother and hated his mother and loved his wife yet cheated on his wife. He was known as both a great and terrible general and a “there’s a lot of evidence to support competing opinions of him.”

On the role and legacy of President Abraham Lincoln, Cousins says, “He was the soul of forbearance, in so many ways, just his patience and his ability to really want to understand other points of view – and that really stands out as a model. I think we can all take something from that.”

Washington’s birthday is actually on February 22. In 1971 the federal holiday was shifted to the third Monday in February by the Uniform Monday Holiday Act.


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